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The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine CD (album) cover


The Soft Machine

Canterbury Scene

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5 stars The first album, full of vibrancy, and the only one with Kevin Ayers. Supposedly recorded in only three days, this recording has the energy, and equally the rough edges, of a live performance. The most 'sheer fun' Softs album, and one of the most important counter-cultural rock statements of the 1960s.
Report this review (#21984)
Posted Monday, February 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars (first of a serie of eleven)

3.5 stars really! This should have been actually the second album they recorded as their first recordings had Daevid Allen on guitar and was called Jet Propelled Photograph. If I talk of that album here , it is because of Daevid's definite influence on the songwriting of these first two Machine albums.

These are pop songs like only Allen can write (and Ayers and Wyatt learned later) but the very singular touches of these songs are pre-figuring of Canterbury-style rock. When compared to later albums, the musicianship, I would say, is still approximative - Ayers cannot be considered as virtuosity-minded as such because of his own admittance he was too lazy and aspired to spend three quarter of the year in Ibiza - something he will do after leaving for a solo career. However this musicianship issue is quickly dispelled by the sheer innovation/inspiration of the songwriting.

This album is definitely psychadelic rock but can be regarding as a link towards prog (as with the Nice's and Caravan's debuts) by the sheer adventurous nature of their music. Of historical importance.

Report this review (#21985)
Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars By far the very best Soft Machine album thanks of the fabulous Mike Ratledge distorted organ-sound.As their later albums are slowly going to a more jazzy style of music,their first album is their most progressive Canterbury styled music of which later so many groups where influenced by it (See Ellufant,Ocarinah,Travelling,etc...).A brilliant drumming by Robert Wyatt,but a very special noticement for the warm deep voice from Kevin Ayers which never could equalized his prestation anymore.Even not on his later solo-albums.While there isn't any weak moment on the whole album,some tracks as 'Lullabye letter','We did it again' and especially 'Why are we sleeping?'.Why,why,why they didn't go further in this direction!?Really one of the best albums from a Brittisch major group ever made.
Report this review (#21987)
Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, I guess if I want to review a project with Kevin Ayers involved, this is it; his solo work, though often progressive, is not to be found here (yet?). I saw these guys open for Hendrix (both acts only had one album out at the time), and of course, they did nothing for me. I was only 14 or 15; even Hendrix did little for me, although I recognized the "hits". The auditorium in San Antonio had horrible acoustics, and both acts came across as a wall of muddy noise. Anyway, NOW I can say without hesitation that this album has many examples of genius (mixed in with many examples of self-indulgent goofiness). It's really hard to go back to the "beginning" objectively after devouring nearly every solo album Ayers and Wyatt have released over the years. I'm sure that if I listened to this album for the first time now, without ever having heard that solo work, that I would be unimpressed and perplexed. Moot point.
Report this review (#21992)
Posted Wednesday, December 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is one big, freaky explosion of creativity, which easily floats into your ears and brings the mind into a deeper dimension! The music is very fresh and powerfull, it totally captures my attention. Robert Wyatt's drumming is excellent and Mike Ratledge's distorted organ recalls the guitar sounds of Jimi Hendrix, both musicians led by Kevin Ayer's great bass-lines. This album was created by a superb trio.
Report this review (#21995)
Posted Thursday, February 10, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the first soft machine album , the first album of a great band, one of the best bands ever , and this first album is really good, not a masterpiece, but is an excellent add to all of the prog lovers like me. This album has a particular canterbury sound, and a very complex progressive sound, the music is "soft", but powerful and gorjeous , the two voices of the great Robert Wyatt and the always happy Kevin Ayers, give to the band a particular voice sound, but i have to admit that at the first time that i`ve heard this album, sounds to me a few boring, but really i felt sick, now that im fine i`ve heard it a lot of times and its for me one of the best purchases in the last month, and excellent recomendation.
Report this review (#40195)
Posted Sunday, July 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ahh, no! It's not really worth "Piper at the gates of dawn" nor even their second release! But their songs are just so catchy! I love Robert Wyatt's ranting and I love Kevin Ayers's deep voice, and I love Robert's drumming and Ratledge's sounding. "Hope for Happiness" just blows me away any time I play the record, "Why am I so short?" is just a delicious funny funky tune, "A certain kind" is gorgeous "Save yourself" should have been a hit, "Lullabye letter" is just superb, like is the frantic "Why are we sleeping?" !

But the overall sounding does not do justice to these musicians! And sometimes, I think it is plain boring. Most of the tracks are played live with very few overdubs. Likewise, the sound is not as exciting as a live recording. Kevin Ayers once said this album could have been a way better, had the sound engineer (Tom Wilson's "Velvet" as far as I recall it) been interested in the project at all.

Anyway, I think the material here is fantastic and rough and that Robert shines all through the album! That's 4 stars, easily!

Report this review (#46533)
Posted Tuesday, September 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
Zac M
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This album deserves five stars for its importance in progressive rock. The trio of Wyatt, Ratledge, and Ayers (and guests) put down one of the finest albums in the Canterbury sub-genre. While I do not consider this to be my favorite Softs album, it still deserves at least four stars for its importance.

Soft Machine and Caravan, for that matter, were the the products of the Wilde Flowers. One camp went to form Caravan and the other to form Soft Machine. Soft Machine's first album is much more impressive than Caravan's debut in my opinion. Caravan got better with their second album, "If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You," which is also highly recommended. Now, on to the review.

The album kicks off with one of the best Wyatt-era Soft Machine tunes, Hope for Happiness. It is without a doubt a Softs classic. The next song is Joy of a Toy, another Softs classic, which also became the title of Kevin Ayer's debut solo album. It has all the major elements of an earlier Softs song. This track bridges with Hope for Happiness (Reprise), which recalls the first track on the album. Why Am I So Short? is a humorous piece in which Wyatt addresses the issue of his height. After that, comes the longest piece on the album, So Boot If At All. It's primarily a nice, jazzy instrumental piece with great playing by everyone in the band. A Certain Kind is a wonderful vocal number with excellent keyboards by Ratledge and a killer drum outro by Wyatt.

Save Yourself has some great distorted keyboard work with Wyatt taking over as main vocalist again. This track bridges into Priscilla a nice short psychedelic instrumental. Another vocal track, Lullabye Letter comes next. Again, each musician does a superb job. We Did It Again has what sounds like Wyatt and Ayers repeating the chorus with Ratledge covering the keyboard parts. Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle serves as a nice intro into Why Are We Sleeping? Kevin Ayers deep vocals are a highlight of this song. The chorus itself is rather catchy as well. It's one of my favorites on the album. The album ends with a short Ratledge/Hopper tune entitled Box 25/4 Lid. It's a nice ending to one of he greatest landmarks in progressive music.

As before stated, this album is very important in progressive music, especially in the Canterbury sub-genre. This album is a great introduction to someone who is interested in getting in to Soft Machine or Canterbury music itself, for that matter. I feel that I would be committing a wrong not to give this album 5 stars. It is important and needs to be recognized that way. The creative juices flowing throughout this album are astounding. Each musician contributes a sizeable amount on the album. Truly a masterpiece. 5 stars all the way!

Report this review (#48428)
Posted Sunday, September 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Even if it is not a "progresisve rock", it's importance for the genre is very big. It bears some traces of '60 music, but at the same times it's miles ahead of the time (1968) and still remains an absolutely convincing. The sound is a little rough but one may wonder if it's not another plus of this album. Instrumental playing is fantastic, melodies are perfect, even singing is great,although Wyatt or Ayers aren't the real vocalists. A very positive point of this album (and the next, too) is a sense of humour, not often to be found in progressive rock. All tracks are connected, songs fluently change into instrumental pieces and everything fits together very well. Rather to be listened in whole. (just as usual with albums reviewed in progarchives). Highly recomended
Report this review (#69857)
Posted Saturday, February 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is the first official 'Soft Machine 'LP release recorded in 1968 as a trio by Robert Wyatt (drums & vocals), Mike Ratledge (organ & piano) and Kevin Ayers (bass & vocals) with a little help of the Hopper Brothers and produced by Chas Chandler and Tom Wilson. Daevid Allen had left in the meantime and apart from a single for 'Polydor' one year earlier, the material from the early sessions would be released only in the seventies.

The record is a mixture of Blues, Jazz and Rock, spiced with British houmour, surrealistic lyrics and a zest of Dada; all that would become a trademark of many Canterbury bands. An interesting feature : the presence of 'vocal riffs' (maybe due to the fact, that Kevin Ayers had switched from guitar to bass, some of the riffs usually played by guitar are transfered to the vocals, as in 'Hope For Happiness' and 'We Did It Again', giving the band an immediate trademark sound. Another feature borrowed from modern art is the 'collage' technique : editing small snippets together to a suite.

The record starts with a short 'Fake Blues' sung by Robert that leads into a Brian Hopper composition 'Hope For Happiness', introduced by a sung riff, that is followed by an organ solo and a re-exposition of the theme riff.

The next theme 'Joy Of A Toy,' a Kevin Ayers composition is introduced by the bass over Wyatt's heavily echoed drums and seagued into the reprise of 'Hope for happiness', followed by an organ wash and a drum outro.

'Why am I so short?' composed by Hugh Hopper with some tongue in cheek lyrics by Robert seagues into 'So boot if at all ' an instrumental with an distorted organ solo and a short introduction of the 'We Did It Again' theme.

'Save yourself' composed an sung by Robert alternates with 'Lullaby Letter' a Kevin Ayers composition linked together by some beautiful 'Canterbury' organ work by Mike Ratledge.

'We did it again' maybe the most typical one-liner-riff by Kevin Ayers with a gospel like quality: Monty Python meets Mahalia Jackson... followed by another Kevin Ayers 'hit' : 'Why are we sleeping?' a condensed version of the 'Canterbury' sound & lyrics : "It begins with a blessing, it ends with a curse/Making life easy by making it worse"My mask is my master", the trumpeter weeps/But his voice is so weak, as he speaks from his sleep",...

and as an outro of the record a nice piano/bass theme by Ratledge and Hopper.

'Soft Machine'(One) is musically not as challenging as the 'Soft Machine' records to come especially 'Two' and 'Three', but a true masterpiece, a musical Rock-Jazz-& Blues collage mixed with humour, the matrix of the Canterbury sound.

Report this review (#78999)
Posted Monday, May 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
The Wizard
5 stars I remember when I first heard about the Soft Machine how incredibly cool they sounded. They named themselves after a Burroughs novel, had the hippest clothing ever, references to DaDa and pataphysics all throughout their song titles and they played at the place called the UFO Club with Syd Barrett. And the music. It was so originally yet so of the times. The organs, soulful vocals, witty lyrics, jazz madness, and acid sprinkled all over the place made what is in my opinion one of the finest albums of the 60's, Volume 1.

In the liner notes of the album it is described that the music of The Soft Machine is intended to put the mind on a journey, some form of cerebral stimulation. That's absoultly what the music is like. Yet it's never pure unhinged psychedelic freak-out. Throughout the album there is a strong pop sensibility. Songs like 'Save Yourself' and 'Lullaby Letter' show their ability to craft incredible pop tunes while still keeping that psychedelic and experimental edge that makes this album great.

All the electronic manipulation and effects found in this record couldn't be further from pure gimmickry. Every far out organ tone or blast of fuzzed out bliss serves a purpose within the song. There's really nothing self indulgent to be found on the album. Even the slightly longer than brief drum solo in 'So Boot If At All' stays interesting the whole way through, with backwards piano and psychedelic strangeness giving even a drum solo texture.

Early trance-rock is even experimented with, with Kevin Ayers's 'We Did it Again', which shows they could have influenced some elements of the krautrock movement. 'Why Are We Sleeping' is the grand finale of the album and is one of the greatest tracks in the 60's. Kevin's spoken word poetry is what makes the song. Other bands like The Moody Blues sound incredibly pretentious and cheesy when they use spoken word in their songs, but in this case it works amazing. Everything from the blown out organ attack to the joyfully sung chorus of this track is pure classic.

'Why am I so Short' is piece by Robert Wyatt featuring fierce drumming and lyrics which Wyatt describes himself with much wit and humor: "I've got a drum-kit and some sticks, so when I'm drunk or in a fit, I find it easy to express myself!". One of the great things about the atmosphere is that it's actually quite down to earth lyrically, with songs about girls, happiness, and life in generally. Yet it's the off-key and creative vocal styles of Wyatt and Ayer's that give them an edge.

Soft Machine's debut is a work of outstanding creativity and craft. It fills me up with joy whenever I hear it. This album is the auditory form of bliss.

Report this review (#80141)
Posted Friday, June 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars

What a brilliant debut.

This is a perfect blend of early Canterbury sound and psychedelia. All tracks are short, but I prefer to call them brief instead. There is nothing too protracted here; this is a perfect amount of soloing and well-developed main ideas. Basically, there's no boring or weak moments. The sound is quite muddy, production is far from perfect, but in a way, that suits music fine. Fuzzy organ and bass are spread all over the place, from short odd-time-signature experiments "Box 25/4 Lid" to downtempo almost-ballad-like type songs ( "A Certain Kind"), to three-minute repetitive trance in "We Did It Again".

"Why Are We Sleeping" is a highlight, with simple structured organ chords, excellent lyrics and frenetic solo. Now wait...I just described any song on this album. They're all really good. Nice humour, experiments with vocals, overall warmth...but "Why Are We Sleeping" is my favourite, although it's hard to define why. Maybe because lyrics are sending shiver down the spine. Maybe because chorus is so suggestive.

SOFT MACHINE will never repeat the power, freshness and imagination of the first album. Second album equally good, but it's mellower, the rest of the albums are without humour, and after that...that's a completely different story.

This album is a must for any serious progressive rock collection.

Report this review (#102914)
Posted Wednesday, December 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars One might say anything negative about Robert Wyatt: one thing remains sure: he was an outstanding drummer: he definitely proves it here, offering a VERY impressive exhibition of complex, fast, jazzy, structured and varied drums patterns: he sounds like he could drive an entire orchestra, like the legendary American jazz drummers long time ago: he is so talented that he sounds like he makes more than 50% of the music. His vocals are good, being original and excentric too, as usual: however, his voice does not take too much room, so that the other instruments can be fully appreciated. The omnipresent electric organ is very psychedelic and often experimental: its melodies contribute to give a slight Canterburian character to the music. The EXCELLENT elastic bass really has a powerful bottom & smooth sound. The album does not have a hard rock dimension, since there is no electric guitar involved. To produce such an album in 1968 is impressive: this record must be seen by many as a major & memorable one in the prog music history: this album must be appreciated firstly for the rhythmic section, i.e. the drums & bass, since it constitutes the major part of the music.
Report this review (#123691)
Posted Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Released in 1968, "The Soft Machine" one of the first Canterbury Collective albums from one of the founding canterbury bands "Soft Machine" featuring Robert Wyatt on Vocals/Drums, Kevin Ayers on Bass, and Mr. Ratledge on Organ... This is a very sixties sounding album with lots of psychedelic jams and songs that bleed into each other, often leaving you confused as an LSD experience... The journey begins with Hope for Happiness which begins slow with multi-vocal tracks and echoing drums, in no time drums begin and you begin to be dragged into Joy Of A Toy, which begins with a trippy bass intro and the same echo drum beat from the previous song, towards the end the drums become more known and fast, which is joined by the organ, and echoes... Hope For Happines, hope for happiness, hope for happiness reprise, all my friends always say: "we just heard this song". 4 Why Am I So Short is a crazy jazzy song "I'm nearly five-foot-seven tall, I like to smoke and drink and ball". 5 So Boot If It All is a psychedelic tune whichs shoots electricty and vibrations up and down your spine, includes lots and lots of different jams and crazy frantic drums playing, this song has a trippy outro that is connected with A Certain Kind which is a beautiful song, great lyrics, bass, organ, and drums .: Side Two:. side two starts with Save Yourself which is more Rock orientated, the end of this song is a psychedelic jam which leads into Priscilla reminds me of video-game music, jazzy bass, electronic sounding organ, a short song which is a bridge to my favorite song on the album; Lullabye Letter one word to descibe it: Wild. 10 we did it again is the mantra for We Did It Again, includes Kevin Ayers on Vocals. 11 Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle a filler song that is upbeat and has a good bass line to it, this song sets up the most progressive song on the album Why Are We Sleeping includes Ayers on Vocal duties once again. Box 25/4 Lid is a weird way to end an album piano sync with fuzz bass. Over all this album is trippy and often overlooked by Soft Machines best album Third
Report this review (#125377)
Posted Sunday, June 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Way, way back in February of 1968 I had the privilege to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. I knew that he would be incredible (he was) but what I didn't expect was to be entranced by an unknown trio called The Soft Machine. They (along with Clouds) were one of the opening acts and I'm certain that most of the audience was more interested in seeing if the drummer was actually wearing any clothes or not. With the spacey light show swirling around the stage it was very hard to tell (turns out he had on a miniscule thong thing of some sort). However, I couldn't have cared less about their stage outfits (or lack of). These guys played a different style of psychedelic jazz/rock that I found to be creative, edgy and much more interesting than most of the contrived, stare-at-the-lava-lamp acid music that was coming out of San Francisco. The very next day I tried to find this album but discovered that it hadn't even been recorded yet. When I finally got it on my turntable (it wasn't released until December of '68) I was thrilled to find that the LP consisted of the same songs in pretty much the same order that the group had performed them live. When I attempted to turn my friends on to this music not many found Soft Machine to be as engaging as I did but I just figured they weren't as progressive-minded as I was so I adopted them for my own. It no longer mattered what others thought, this record came along at a pivotal point in my life and I listened to it until the grooves wore out. It will forever have a nostalgic significance for me.

They start things off with a very unorthodox free-form, wandering vocal from drummer Robert Wyatt splayed loosely over some moody organ that clearly reveals their modern jazz roots. They slide right into "Hope For Happiness," an up-tempo psychedelic song and here you get your first encounter with Michael Ratledge's furious, intense keyboard style as he delivers a sizzling organ ride. The majority of the tunes blend seamlessly into one another throughout the album and this occurs with the playful instrumental "Joy of a Toy" where guitarist/bassist Kevin Ayers serenades you with a wah wah-driven guitar ditty that's as carefree as a stroll down a country road. It dissolves into dissonance before a reprisal of "Hope For Happiness" brings you back full circle.

I would characterize Wyatt's unique singing style as being the anti-vocal in that he delivers the lyrics in a sort of passive manner, giving the impression that he's not overly concerned about being exactly on key. Yet there's something very human and endearing about his thin voice and I've always found it to be curiously effective. A good example of this is found in his singing on "Why Am I So Short?," a semi-jazz number with an avant garde chord structure that leads you directly into a jam-oriented piece, "So Boot If At All." It comes complete with tastefully brief bass and drum solos. This is followed by a sweet ballad written by Hugh Hopper called "A Certain Kind," by far the most "normal" song on the record. It features an involved progression and melody but it's the poignant keyboard section and the subsequent build up to the climactic ending that seals the deal.

Next is a return to psychedelia with the rockin' "Save Yourself," after which they detour momentarily into the twilight zone with "Priscilla" before transitioning to the fast- paced "Lullabye Letter" that contains another excellent organ lead. It really is amazing the variety of sounds they get with their limited instrumentation. The euphoria- producing, head-bobbing groove of "We Did It Again" follows and it was (and still is) the perfect tune for that cosmic, navel-contemplating era. Ratledge's upwardly-mobile organ chords droning over the basic two-note melody is beautiful in its simplicity. I don't know what "It" is that the singer keeps doing again and again but you can fill in the blank with whatever verb/noun combination that best suits your needs.

"Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle" is nothing more than a musical preview for "Why Are We Sleeping?," another terrific song. Here Ayers recites the verse's poetic lyrics in a lilting, conversational tone that sets it apart from every other tune. The brooding bass line and deep organ chords along with the emotional dynamics provided by the band's intelligent arrangement make this the highlight of the album. Its plea for some sense of social awareness is as relevant today as it was all those decades ago. "Box 25/4 Lid" is an odd little riff played in tandem on piano and bass guitar and its quirkiness provides the perfect finale.

If there's any downside to the album it's that audio-wise it's a little bit flat and many of the studio effects sound quite dated nearly 40 years down the road. But the music is just as spontaneous and free as it was that magical evening when I saw them in concert and if you have an inquisitive mind that's open to exploring a totally different side of the psychedelic rock phenomenon of the late 60s then I strongly suggest that you give this a spin. It's a treat.

Report this review (#125482)
Posted Monday, June 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

It all started here! Among the new underground scene coming out of London around 1967/1968, 2 bands emerged as the kings of this new psychedelia/avant garde music where they were no boundaries, no restrictions on how to play your instruments or compose songs; The old rules were trashed and new sounds, weird sounds for a lot of people, new musical horizons were opened and explored. The names of those 2 bands were PINK FLOYD and SOFT MACHINE.

Even if SOFT MACHINE remains to this day the biggest name and most successful act from the CANTERBURY scene, they didn't follow exactly the same successful commercial path than PINK FLOYD and never became a mainstream big name as WATERS and co. The main reasons for that was their uncompromising stand with the music they wanted to play , their ever-changing line-up from one album to another resulting in sudden shifts of music style that left quite a few of their early fans scratching their perplexed heads.

But at this time around 1968 to 1971, SOFT MACHINE was a huge name in the burgeonning prog movement. It's just too bad than through the next decades, the reputation of this band waned from a big caliber name to just another Canterbury name. I checked on PA some polls and discussions about them. Nothing big enough to crash the server of this site.

That's sad because they were one of the most unique and innovative bands of the prog movement, creating the Canterbury school or sound.They were never duplicated because it was unpossible to sound like them. Even SOFT MACHINE couldn't duplicate themselves as their sound was always changing and going some other places, no one has ever been. The only comparison with them i can think of is FRANK ZAPPA and the MOTHERS OF INVENTION, not necessarily musically but in their own way to create their own music mixing serious avant garde sounds with psychedelic jazzy jams, silly vocals and...a lot of talent!

SOFT MACHINE started as a quartet featuring MIKE RATLEDGE on keyboards, mainly organ, KEVIN AYERS on bass and vocals , ROBERT WYATT on drums and vocals and the Aussie DAEVID ALLEN of future GONG fame on guitar. Worth noticing that the next bassist of SOFT MACHINE HUGH HOPPER was already around as a.....roadie and ...songwriter! This line-up would record plenty of demos and songs that would be released only a few years later under the JET PROPELLED PHOTOGRAPH which could be considered as a real first SOFT MACHINE album, but legally THE SOFT MACHINE is the first one. Also, this album would be named later on VOLUME ONE on some editions as their next album will be named VOL.2.

By the time this album was recorded, DAEVID ALLEN was out of the band because he was not allowed an entry visa in Britain from France where he was living back then.This is like that history is being made as DAEVID would form GONG later in France. KEVIN AYERS would take over the occasional guitar parts, but they weren't many anyway!

Even if you find some kind of classic strong structures on this album,it has to be heard as a whole piece of music with freaky interludes bridging all parts.This is a wild experience and a trippy journey through fuzz-box distortion, strange off key organ sounding, maniacal great drumming, a rumbling heavy groovy bass and unique vocals from ROBERT WYATT and KEVIN AYERS.No one in the world sings like ROBERT WYATT! there is only one RW. One can say his voice is an instrument by itself as it helps the album and the subsequent SOFT MACHINE releases to sound like no one else.

This is a raw album full of energy and new twists at every corner. This is not jazz, this is not rock, this not contemporary music, this is only SOFT MACHINE. A mad mixture of everything and raged psychedelism cooked by some crazy wizard. I won't go into details, track by track as i said earlier, this album has to be listened as a whole. There are even sweet songs such as the beautiful HUGH HOPPER penned A CERTAIN KIND, in the style of CAROLINE from WYATT'MATCHING MOLE. You have the ''hits'' from KEVIN AYERS singing with his strong baritone voice WE DID IT AGAIN and WHY ARE WE SLEEPING which are still played by KEVIN on stage nowadays.What a contrast with the very delicate sounding voice of ROBERT WYATT.But IT IS the overall sound madness that prevails with no time to take a breath!

It was a very important album back then along the next VOL2 and FLOYD's PIPERS AT THE GATE and SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS.They wouldl launch the experimental prog movement starting with KCRIMSON and Krautrock next. They told other and future musicians you can dare, you are not obligated to follow the verses/chorus rules, be yourself, be like a mad scientist , not be always serious, have fun , explore new musical horizons and create.

SOFT MACHINE would produce a few more masterpieces starting with the next one and THIRD before becoming too serious and losing their freshness....and some fans. But i guess that's the price TO PAY when you stay true to yourself and don't compromise in the name of money and they didn't, thanks to them. 4 stars for the music and one more star because it's where it all began!!


Report this review (#135724)
Posted Saturday, September 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This is where it all started for SOFT MACHINE. There is such a sixties sound to this record and yes I know it was recorded in 1968, but the sixties vibe just makes me feel good that's all.These guys played on the same bill as PINK FLOYD a lot back then at the UFO Club before going on a U.S. tour opening for Jimi Hendrix. Sort of a Pop / Psych flavour on this one much like FLOYD's debut.

"Hope For Happiness" features overlapping vocals from Wyatt that sound cool. The song kicks in before 2 minutes. Check out the organ work from Ratledge ! The bass and drums shine as well. "Joy Of A Toy" would later be the name of a Kevin Ayer's solo album. This song is reserved until it picks up some after 2 minutes. The next song is a reprise of the first track, and I like it. It has a dissonant ending. I love the organ and drums on "Why Am I So Short". "So Boot If At All" is a great uptempo instrumental that calms down after 3 minutes. Check out Wyatt 4 1/2 minutes in. Piano is sprinkled in as things get a little psychedelic. "A Certain Kind" reminds me of MATCHING MOLE and Wyatt's solo stuff. A nice ballad.

"Save Yourself" is very 60's sounding. "Priscilla" has some DOORS-like organ in it. "Lullabye Letter" is another 60's sounding tune as drums, organ and vocals lead the way as usual. "We Did It Again" is like a Krautrock inspired tune with the repetitivness and crazy drumming after 3 minutes. "Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle" has an ominous intro before some outstanding drum work from Wyatt. The bass is great as well as the song blends into "Why Are We Sleeping ?". This is a psychedelic, 60's sounding song with spoken words (Ayers) before vocals and organ come in.Contrasts continue. "Box 25/4 Lid" is a short instrumental of piano / bass to end the album.

A solid 4 stars for me and I like this better than "Piper's At The Gates Of Dawn" which came out the year before.

Report this review (#142815)
Posted Monday, October 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Wow, compared to most other reviewers, I am just not on board with what the Soft Machine is all about. Here is where they got their start, and things sure sound raw. My personal opinion is that if you take away Wyatt's drumming (which I also happen to find highly overrated), you'd have some truly terrible music here. As it stands, what we have here is lot of relatively free-form noodling on keys (sure it can be fast some of the time, but also sloppy and without much direction) coupled with off-key vocal wailings. Wyatt to me sounds a homeless man's David Crosby, with a raspy texture.

I suppose these guys did sound a bit unique in 1968, but given the powerhouses that would follow in the next year (Led Zeppelin, Santana, Yes, etc), it's no coincidence that they took a major drop in popularity: there's really just not much talent here (at least compared to the aforementioned bands), and they don't play that well together (certainly not at this point). Most of the time when they finally settle on a decent groove to build on, all goes quiet and they're back in free-form mode (the Hope for Happiness songs and So Boot if at All). The only song where they have decent interplay Lullabye Letter, and at least this points to future potential.

So, am I the oddball who just doesn't get it? Possibly, but after becoming familiar with a good deal of the Soft Machine's early discography, my take is still that Wyatt is the only real talent in the group (and for his work on drums only--certainly not the vocals). Even considering that this is a debut, and also taking into account historical relevance, I can't give this album more than two stars. If you like simple music (standard chords, lots of quarter-note playing) with an old sound and some psychadelic influence, this may be up your alley. If need the complexity that later prog offers, avoid this album.

Report this review (#156162)
Posted Friday, December 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Soft Machine was the very beginning of the progressive rock style, with a jazzy approach, like all the Canterbury bands. This album is unforgettable. I should say also, that my rate is 4,5 stars really, I hesitated between 4 and 5 and decided 5 because this album like the 2 and 3 of this very same group are all masterpieces. Robert Wyatt is an amazing drummer here and sings with grace and strangeness alike. His drumming is awesome, providing all kinds of backgrounds for the improvisations of both Ratledge on distorted organ or Hopper's distorted bass. Hope for Happiness exsudes with hope and light, and there's still space for Joy of a Toy which takes us to the realms of jazz fusion that was yet to be invented. Why Am I So Short? is beautiful, the melody is intricate, and when the band finally takes off, we are left with So Boot If At All, an improvising game of organ, drums and bass. I can't think of any band, apart from the Mothers of Invention perhaps, that can take us to such extreme and contraditory heights. A Certain Kind is a ballad that could have been composed by Procol Harum. Nice singing and unforgettable melody and harmony. Save Yourself maintains the happy tone of the record. Priscilla takes us to the realms of jazz organ ambience, with great drumming, the accent on 4th beat of the bar reminds us of Art Blakey and his drive. Lullabye Letter is a jazzy rock, with great bass and organ, boiling and cooking. We Did it Again is by far the low point of the record, the one that makes it 4 and a half stars instead of 5. Tries to bring some irony to the music through the use of repetition, but doesn't reach it. Why Are We Sleeping? has a beautiful singing and programmed chorus of women(?). This takes us to Box 25/4 Lid, the ending of the record. A melody in unisone by piano and organ. So, in conclusion, I'd say that, apart from We Did it Again and the way it is recorded, sometimes the vocal work doesn't match the reverberation of the band, this is a masterpiece to anyone who likes progrock. 4,5 stars!
Report this review (#162756)
Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Soft Machine is the selftitled debut album from one of the two groups that emerged after the demise of The Wilde Flowers.Soft Machine and Caravan, which was the other band to emerge after The Wilde Flowers ceased to exist, were both very influential forces on the Canterbury music scene and they are widely aknowledged as the creators of that particular subgenre to progressive rock. While Caravan´s debut album didn´t impress me much it´s a whole other story with Soft Machine. This is a beautiful album and it´s got all the characteristica of early Canterbury scene. The whimsical singing style and humorous lyrics and the soft jazz/ rock approach to music.

The music on this debut album is very experimental which was a common feature on many recordings from 1968, but I think Soft Machine was a bit different. First of all this is not regular psychadelic music IMO even though it´s pretty strange at times. it´s rather intellectual if you ask me.

Robert Wyatt´s drumming needs to be mentioned as it is very adventurous and his vocals are also along with the vocals from Kevin Ayers are defining for the Canterbury Scene. In my review of the debut from Matching Mole I was very critical towards Robert Wyatt´s voice but it´s great here. Very fragile but great never the less.

The songs are short witful statements that at times can seem a bit underdeveloped which is a real shame as some of them definitely invites to longer sections. That doesn´t mean that these songs don´t sound great as they are though. If you like Canterbury scene music this one is a must IMO. I won´t mention any songs in particular as I like them all and I think that all the songs together is what makes this such a great album. There is a sort of concept like cohesiveness to the songs.

The musicianship is outstanding and above all innovative and adventurous. I really enjoy the interplay between the musicians.

The production is charming even though it´s not the best sixties sound quality I have heard. It´s way better than Caravan´s debut album though.

Soft Machine has taken me by surprise with this album, and I must declare myself a fan from this day forth. At least of this brilliant album. I have been debating myself if this is a masterpiece but I have come to the conclusion that I will rate it 4 stars now and maybe later upgrade it to 5 if my excitement doesn´t stop. This is a highly recommendable album for Canterbury scene fans and for fans of sixties and early seventies prog rock in general too.

Report this review (#173037)
Posted Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first Soft Machine album is the beginning of a long and prosperous transformation that involves many subtle changes and styles mainly due to the frequent change of line-ups, making it a very important album as the start point of Soft Machine, a notable and influential band.

As in all Soft Machine albums, it is important to mention the band members at the time: Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge. This specific line-up, combined with the cultural environment in which the album was recorded resulted in a form of Cantebury-Psychedelic Rock that draws influences from pop music, as it incorporates traditional song formats such as short song duration and lyric-oriented music. Later on, the line-up modifications would cause a change in tempo, as the band slowly strode towards Jazz Fusion and Progressive Rock.

The music is led mostly by the drums and the singing, while the bass and keyboards seem to simply accompany Wyatt's rhythms and melodies. Long instrumental keyboard solos are always present throughout the history of the band due to Mike Rattledge's influence, even in the debut album, that has strong lyrical and anti-jam feeling compared to the rest of the music that Soft Machine has developed. This album is also possibly the only truly psychedelia-oriented album of SM, due to Kevin Ayers's influence.

An interesting remark about this album is that the tracks sound very similar one to another, one can listen to the entire thing without noticing any major change in the sound. A very fluid and pleasant album. Even though it is not one of Soft Machine's best albums, it deserves a 4 star rating simply for being a solid starting point for a unique band.

Report this review (#200866)
Posted Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars This, the debut album from SOFT MACHINE is an interesting experience for the unprepared listener. Like myself.

This album is full of ideas. Some of them pretty mad. Well, most of them are pretty mad and well into what we can call avant-garde prog. Although Daevid Allen is not listed here, the GONG references is pretty obvious here. This although GONG did not become a force well after the release of this album. The likes of Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper also ensure that this is not a standard pop/ rock album. It is not even a standard psychodelia album. It is an album which cover most bases within the final months of the 1960s music scene. From pop in the opening minutes to avant-garde..... and pretty much everything inbetween. This album is an interesting experience for the unprepared listener (reprise).

The album opens with a pop like song called Hope For Happiness and goes into a pretty good instrumental avant-garde part before the musical experiments takes of big time. Save Yourself is another good pop song which I am sure THE BEATLES would had liked to record...... after cleaning out the avant-garde bits. The rest of the album is good too.

For me; this album is too leftfield avant-garde. But I can understand why some people think this album is even better than sliced bread. I may even join them when given more time. But for now; I listen to this album with interest, but not with admiration. But being a debut album, this is an excellent effort.

3.75 stars

Report this review (#215942)
Posted Friday, May 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Yeah I did it, I gave it five stars. This is questionably my favorite album of all time. All the songs are solid, the musicianship unmatched (except by the same band later in time!), and it flows perfectly. This album has it all, it has the grooves, incredible jamming, skillful instrumentation from all three members, and great songwriting (even some from Hugh Hopper who wasn't in the group yet).

If you love 60's psych music this album will deliver very well to you, it has long instrumental passages, great organ, awesome jam sessions, and Robert Wyatt's voice is absolutely incredible. Theres also very interesting work done with tape loops, far before people were doing such things. This album is a precursor of a streak of three more great albums to come, after which the band disolves into a random group of musicians known as Soft Machine, but really in no way related.

I heavily reccomend this album, it certainly changed my outlook on music forever and has remained unmatched in my mind.

Report this review (#222789)
Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is an album I have mixed feelings about. I'd like to be able to say that it is an undisputable masterpiece of psychedelic prog, but it is not. Certainly, it has some great tunes on it. "Hope for Happiness" and "Lullaby Letter" are catchy and energetic 1960s "beat" music with great vocals, superb drumming and masterful keyboard playing. "A Certain Kind" is a prime candidate for the most soulful Soft Machine ballad ever. "Why Are We Sleeping" almost deserves its reputation as an epic, but I was a Kevin Ayers fan first, and I prefer the bombastic (but tongue-in-cheek) treatment Ayers would give this on THE CONFESSIONS OF DR DREAM.

On the other hand, the many experimental snippets, sound collages and purely instrumental passages the band managed to strew throughout this album give a rather childish and unexciting impression, especially if you compare them with the effects that had been achieved a full year earlier by their friends and colleagues, the Pink Floyd, on THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN. I doubt the Floyd were better song-writers or players, but their debut album is a Multi-Coloured Dream Machine, whereas THE SOFT MACHINE sounds monochrome by comparison. Perhaps it was Syd Barrett's manic guitar playing that made all the difference? Perhaps the Floyd just had a better producer?

Anyway, the good news is that you can now hear THE SOFT MACHINE in better form than ever, thanks to the remastered edition which appeared in 2009. This edition makes a real difference: Robert Wyatt's overdubbed vocal experiments, percussional echo effects etc. stand out more clearly than ever before. The new edition also has the considerable advantage of including the Softs' first single as a bonus. That single's original A-side, "Love Makes Sweet Music", is yet another indomitable "beat" tune (which really should have been a huge hit!) while its totally whacky B-side, "Feelin' Reelin' Squealin'", is more fun (if you ask me) than anything on the original LP, mainly thanks to Kevin Ayers's dopey vocal. (As on "Why Are We Sleeping", both he and Wyatt take care of the singing.) Unfortunately, these bonus tracks are in mono and apparently unremastered.

Report this review (#259725)
Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Legendary Canterbury band and one of the first progressive groups along with countrymen Caravan.They were formed in 1966 by former ''Wilde flowers'' members drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist/vocalist Kevin Ayers along with Mike Ratledge on keys and Daevid Allen on guitars.Soon the band had an intense live activity even outside UK, costing their shortness to a trio,as Daevid Allen was Australian and was refused reentry on English ground due to expiration of his visa.The band had to carry on and in 1968 they recorded their first self-titled album for Probe Records (and for Barclay in France),an album which succeeded several re- issues through the years to come.

We are talking about 1968 here and as expected the sound is very dated,having lost much of his freshness nowadays.However the talent of the band is certainly there.What I can absorb from this album is actually a band deeply rooted in a typical 60's psychedelic sound but with a tendency for improvisational structures.Vocal harmonies follow also the path of somewhat ''sweet'' vocal lines, sometimes they are good,sometimes they sound rather hilarious.Fortunately ''Soft machine'' was given a lot of space for instrumental music,where the band uses the improvisational mood of Jazz music without sounding jazzy at all.Wyatt is always linked with his drum kit,offering strong,tight yet schizophenic drumming with Ayers contributing with heavy bass lines.Ratledge works often on his own,adding a personal sound,which alternates between familiar psychedelic organs and experimental, almost jamming passages.Yet I'm not exactly sure if this combination of pleasant psych with experimental rock is very well balanced.

Nevertheless this is generally a good debut with the band trying to find their own identity,twisting from Psych Rock to hints of what was going to come in the future.However it will propably please more fans of late 60's psych,but it would be nice if anyone tried to seek for this legendary band's early roots.

Report this review (#263698)
Posted Sunday, January 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Soft Machine's debut album is very important in historical sense. It is still no way Canterbury sound, but it is what will become Canterbury Scene very soon. All ingredients are here, but the listener should wait a bit till the brew will be matured.

Looking really - this album is very interesting early psychedelic album with lots of jazzy arrangements, freaky flower-power atmosphere, excellent bass, great musicianship in general. But music is still far not that excellent slightly psychedelic jazz rock you can find on their "Third" album. Much more Daevid Allen influenced sound, and possibly could be compared more with early Gong works.

I like some vocals there, great bass, very variable drumming, pleasant jazzy drumming and whole relaxed atmosphere. It is really nice album - no way masterpiece though. Anyway - everyone serious early psychedelia or Canterbury sound fan should hear this so important work.

I know some fans love this album even more than band's classic works ("Third", or some later). I can easily understand why - if you're more in proto psychedelic prog, and don't like complex jazzy sound, you will possibly like first two SF albums more than many of their later works as well.

In all cases - good album.

Report this review (#281566)
Posted Wednesday, May 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Before I write a review, I make a point of letting the album in questiion sink in through multiple listenings. This allows me to judge the record on it's real merits and not be mislead by first impressions which can be influenced by your state of mind. Usually this only takes a few spins but, for some reason, the Soft's debut took me longer than most. By long, I mean several years and I still dont think I have this album totally nailed down. I guess Im trying to say that I still find it fairly impenetrable.

It has something to do with the fact that Volume One lacks the guitar that ive come to expect as a given in any self-respecting band (the Soft's guitarist Daevid Allen, of Gong fame, wasnt available at the time of the recording). Or the fact that it lacks a bit of that studio polish and comes off as being more a live album from one of those dingy, 60's London (or Canterbury) night clubs. Also, Robert Wyatt's flat and high pitched vocals, which come off as having either a slight wheeze or whine depending on the track, have never been a favorite of mine.

Gradually, though, the pros became more apparent. It dawned on me that all three of these guys can really play. Mike Ratledge's organ is usually front and center either surging through some incendiary jams like on 'So Boot if at All' or 'Hope for Happiness' or toned down in an angelic accompanyment as per 'A Certain Kind'. Kevin Ayers loose, dynamic and at times downright funky bass playing is incredible. On 'Joy of a Toy' his soloing reminds me of Michael Bloomfield's guitar on the great acid jam 'East-West'. That's some chops for a bass guitarist! And of course, Wyatt on drums is really what adds the jazzy touch to this album. The songs themselves are quite weak and are fairly forgetable. However, the focus of Volume One is these guys jamming together; something they sound like they were born to do.

Most importantly, Volume One, with it's blend of pop, british psychedelia and jazz is the birth of the Canterbury Sound. As such, this album is the blue print that all other bands of that genre would follow. Right down to the whimsical and comic style of song writing that people also associate with Syd Barrett. In that sense, Ayers funny, repetative and frustrating 'We Did it Again' is the twin of Syd's legendary "Have You Got it Yet?'. The Soft Machine would quickly evolve into more of a jazz-fusion group but their debut has left a lasting impression on the Canterbury Scene analogous to the influence of KC's 'Court' on the majority of prog.

It took me a long time to get to the point where I could listen to the album start to finish but these days, I can appreciate Volume One it for what it is: a pillar of British psychedelic rock and the Canterbury Scene sound. Give this one a chance and it will really grow on you.

Report this review (#300717)
Posted Monday, September 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars It took me a very long time to approach this band.

As we come closer to a special date for me, I have decided to start my reviewing process for "Soft Machine". Each of these reviews is dedicated to Antoine of course. Je pense souvent ŕ toi; mon ami.

I was never really into this band in the early seventies; their name was not very well spread around here (Belgium) in those heydays of prog music. Since I was born in 1959, I was more tempted with Led Zep, TYA, Santana, Purple, Sabbath, Floyd and the likes.

What I can say about this release is that it is deeply psychedelic ("Hope For Happiness", "Save Yourself" and the excellent "Why Are We Sleeping") with a jazzy touch for the second one. In terms of music, this lineup was extremely skilled and the proposal here was quite daring for the time (remember that it was released in 68).

I believe that I can better appreciate this album by now that I could have done, let's say in '73 when I really embraced the prog genre with Tull, Yes, Genesis & VDGG.

This is of course not an album for everyone but it is of vital importance for the prog scene. As such it deserves to raise your interest and even, if like me, you are not much attracted by the Canterbury style you will be rewarded while listening to this debut.

Even if some songs sounds a bit dated like "Lullabye Letter" which still features some great organ work and if the riff of "You Did It Again" is borrowed to "You Really Got Me" this album is rather good.

Four stars.

Report this review (#338376)
Posted Monday, November 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
3 stars Psychedelic Rock by The Jazz Machine

The Soft Machine's debut released in 1968 can easily be compared to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by (The) Pink Floyd in the way that both are heavily psych oriented and yet very original and rather innovative at their style, also both albums really differ from the later band's classics. Heck, Kevin Ayers can even be considered the Syd Barrett of The Soft Machine.

But really, for me Piper succeeded better, the lunacy of it is just off-limits. The Softs debut isn't bad though, definitely a forgotten gem from the psychedelic/proto-prog era, but overall it doesn't deliver you such a unique experience. It is original mind you, bits of jazz, humour, and this mixed with the classic psych type of compositions, this was definitely one of its kind back then.

Right now though, it's an enjoyable psych album and good to have in your collection if you want to know the development of rock music. Other than that, this is not really that great. Got to admit though, instrumentally that this is very good, Mike Ratledge's very 60s organ solos are cool and so is Wyatt's drumming. But all this would get even better and more refined in Volume Two, a true masterpiece of psych mixed with jazz.

3 stars: Just in case if you didn't get my point, I highly recommend this if you like psychedelic rock music and if you're keen to know the early traces of Prog. Obviously an essential album for fans of the band, but if you're not a fan of the band and neither of psych rock, you can skip this pretty easily.

Report this review (#359049)
Posted Monday, December 20, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I hesitated on reviewing this album initially, because Chicapah did such a good review, but I want to honor this quarky live? album. I know that they opened for Hendrix in 68' and its easy to see why. They have that acid soaked sound, but it is far more important than the typically poorly produced "classics" that we have come to know. I'm a younger person though, so this review is a little biased, but my knowledge for music goes beyond any of my peers (take my word for it).

At first I was confused by this album, because the vocals sounded bad, but after analyzing this album further, I have grown to love how well done they really are. True, Robert Wyatt couldn't really lead the choir, but his hauntingly stringy vocals are so unique and engaging. Wyatt is an incredibly talented drummer, but he restrains himself, which most virtuosos wouldn't consider, because their egos tell them that they should construct a 128 piece drum set that encircles them (sorry Neil Peart). I'm not sure what equipment is used in producing some of the sounds, (maybe Chicapah can help me out here since he was at the show) but they are certainly mature for the technology that was around. I have taken a sound art class at CU in Boulder (yes, I'm not making this up) and the way they treat their sounds is interesting, but I'm not sure how much studio, if any, is involved.

I know I might offend a couple of people here, but Wyatt's voice reminds me of Kurt Cobain, only without its angst, and british of course (that was good to get out). Also the lyrics are kind of like Cobain's lyric... Anyway....

This album is a true Masterpiece because it offers some of the most interesting timbres that I've heard in a while, and the chromatic and expressive instrumentals. Ratledges keyboard are very explosive and the bass player, is pretty good too, actually Ayers kind of reminds me of Geezer Butler; I wouldn't be surprised if Butler and the rest of Black Sabbath were influenced by Soft Machine, it is actually how creepy how similar these . This album isn't quite as good as Third, but it is still a 5 star album. The lyrics are by far the weakest part of this album and many of the songs could have done without any vocals whatsoever, but that is Canterbury for you.

Report this review (#373763)
Posted Wednesday, January 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars The last time I had his much fun they said I wasn't going to pull through. Honestly, I don't know why I persist with Soft Machine - I always feel let down at the end and this is no exception.

A rambling mess from beginning to end with only Robert Wyatt's drumming giving the album any semblance of direction. I usually like his paper thin vocals but here all the notes seem wrong and in the wrong sequence.

I'm clearly in the minority when over 130 people have rated this first album giving it a '4.04' total. I just feel like I'm parked diagonally in a parallel universe when listening to it. I find it irritating and noisy and tuneless. It's also quite a poor recording and sounds raw, but I can forgive them that - it was 1968 after all. Oh and that organ really grates my brain. Mike Ratledge sounds like he was wearing boxing gloves while playing it.

I guess me and Soft Machine are just a marriage made in hell where I'm destined never to like them. But by God, I've tried.

Report this review (#393874)
Posted Friday, February 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Softs' first proper album shows an incredible and immensely welcome growth in their musical style following their 1967 demos (available under various names - "Jet Propelled Photographs" being the more common one). As well as the band just plain being tighter and adapting well to the loss of Daevid Allen, the complexity of the songs - which in the demos were given a more simplistic psych-pop delivery - is upped significantly. Most importantly, the band shows a willingness to make a really big noise as well as providing stimulating and intelligent songwriting - perhaps picking up an influence or two from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who they were touring with at the time they made the album (literally - the tracks were recorded during downtime here and there over the course of the tour). The production by Chas Chandler, Jimi's producer, evokes the murky, swirling morass which the Softs mould into wonderful, delirious proto-Canterbury psych visions.

Although Hugh Hopper wouldn't be a full band member yet (though he does guest on the closing Box 25/4 Lid, showcasing some of the tight bass playing he'd bring to the table on Volume 2), he and brother Brian remain a presence (thanks presumably to their earlier participation in the Wilde Flowers), with several compositions by the brothers Hopper showing up. The album kicks off with the delirious triptych of Hope For Happiness/Joy of a Toy/Hope For Happiness (reprise), sandwiching the Ayers/Ratledge composition between one of Brian Hopper's pieces arranged by the band, and Hugh Hopper's A Certain Kind provides the beautiful, haunting close to side one, featuring an impassioned and wonderful vocal performance from Robert Wyatt.

The two lead vocalists on their albums share their duties well, in fact; Wyatt's earthy, haunting voice adapts to a variety of material, whilst Kevin Ayers' deeper, rich, stentorian tones are perfect for his own Why Are We Sleeping? and back up Wyatt wonderfully on Save Yourself. Possibly *the* most out-there psychedelic album of its time, the Soft Machine debut is Canterbury's Ground Zero; whilst the Wilde Flowers and the Softs' own early demos showed a promising pop band, this is the album which raised the bar a hundredfold. A true masterpiece.

Report this review (#448976)
Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I think Soft Machine only belongs to the Canterbury scene because of the territorial fact and the link to The Wilde Flowers, otherwise, there isn't much that can be said about them to be fit into the likes of Caravan and Hatfield And The North, and their debut only proves my point. The music from The Soft Machine has more in common with the music of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but with a bigger pop sensibility and more matter-of-fact lyrics.

This is a very important record, it's the beginning of a band that would proceed to break a lot of new ground and push several boundaries, even if remaining relatively unknown, and it's excellent as a debut record, because even if the production leaves a lot to be desired, the ideas and urge to make new music are already fully developed into a cohesive whole. And they're not afraid to be different. Diversity is the world of the day, it's all psychedelic, but the kind of psychedelia changes from tune to tune. In the package there are freakout jams ("Joy Of A Toy", "So Boot If At All"), psychedelic pop ("Save Yourself", "A Certain Kind", "Why Are We Sleeping?"), avant-garde psychedelia ("Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle", "Box 25/4 Lid"), mantraic chants ("Hope For Happiness", "We Did It Again") and absurdist dadaism ("Why Am I So Short?") gelling perfectly even if it sounds unconceivable.

And the main elements are all in place: Robert Wyatt's sincere voice and paranoid drumming, and Mike Ratledge's mad fuzz organ, with only Kevin Ayers as a complete misfit, but only in retrospect since he would soon leave to pursue an insular solo career. But bassist Hugh Hopper is already adding some new blood and so is his brother Brian on the saxophone.

Right from the beginning Soft Machine was a weird band and a strangely seductive one at that, and while it would be a stretch to say that they didn't need to release anything after this record, this surely maintains a golden place in their discography.

Report this review (#455445)
Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars Soft Machine's debut album is a force to be reckoned with. As you probably know, this album shows the psychedelic side of the band, that was present before Robert Wyatt left the band. Compared to the very tight compositions you've come to know and love off groups like ELP and Yes, the loose, liquid feel of Soft Machine is somewhat refreshing, and extraodinarily entertaining.

There are no less than 13 songs on here, but many of these run together, and I personally only see 4 tracks altogether. These are Hope For Happiness (8:51), Why Am I So Short? (13:16), Why Are We Sleeping? (18:29) and Box 25/4 Lid (0:53).

The first of these, Hope For Happiness is the most cohesive track, as the verse and chorus reprises after the Joy Of A Toy interlude. This is a brilliant rocking track, with all the musicians on top form. Wyatt's singing is exceptional, and the way he urgently utters 'Hope for happiness!' in the chorus is just brilliant.

The second track Why Am I So Short? is brilliant, because it contains two self contained songs seperated by a long experimental instrumental, So Boot If At All. I particularly like the lyrics about being a drummer in the first part of the song, and the melody in A Certain Kind is exquisite.

Side 2 brings a long medley of many different songs, and can be a bit hit and miss in places. However, on the whole, it is a wonderful piece of music. The best part is the last, Why Are We Sleeping? which provides a dramatic closure to the suite. The speaker in this part of the song reminds me of the narator from Rush's The Necromancer. The brief Box 25/4 Lid instumental brings a close to the album, in a very experimental way indeed.

The original LP record was housed in a mint green sleeve, with a movable wheel on the front that you could turn to change which member of the band you were looking at. Unfortunately, there are no regular CDs that give you this option (although, there are undoubtedly Japanese mini-lps for this purpose).

After buying this album, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. This is one of the easiest albums to put on and just listen to for 40 minutes. Quite often I'll put on Hope for Happiness with the intent to play another song afterwards, but just leave it playing afterwards anyway! There's so much pleasure to be had listening to the combination of Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Kevin Ayers, and for this, I award 5 stars to the lucky trio.

Report this review (#459326)
Posted Sunday, June 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am going to be blatantly honest in this review, this is the greatest psychadelic album ever made.

Yes, better than Piper at the Gates of Dawn, better than Sgt. Peppers, better than any Jimi Hendrix or Iron Butterfly album, the absolute greatest.

This album basically contains all the elements of symphonic prog with a psychadelic setting, the songs are catchy, the go into each other, they develop and change, and there is even an instrumental 'epic' ("So Boot if it All").

Despite this there is certainly a degree of jazz structure, meaning that it can be hard to define one song from the next, and thus challenging to appreciate in the first couple of listenings. The payout for those listenings however, is as I said earlier, 'the greatest psychadelic album ever made'.

Report this review (#474424)
Posted Sunday, July 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Ratledge, Ayers and Wyatt were the triune Canterbury pioneers.

The Soft Machine is definitely an acquired taste and I will be the first to admit I could never get into their weird world although at times they come up with a song such as Moon In June that floors me for its dexterity and innovation. The debut for the band seems light years from that genius, yet is a better album than those jazz infested improvised ones to come. From the outset the album introduces us to this zany jazz fusion with Robert Wyatt's trademark ad lib style vocals and the off kilter tempo. The opening track does feature a terrific organ solo from Mike Ratledge that goes all over the place along with the crazy percussive meter and downright unsettling vocal intonations. It is almost as insane as Magma's style using repetition of phrases such as 'happiness'. Joy of a Toy is sandwiched in between, an important track for Kevin Ayers on bass. The solo of guitar, bass and droning effects is a nice psychedelic flourish. It builds to a driving rhythm and breaks into a quirky choppy time sig. The multi layered vocals are typical of Wyatt's style and Ayers leading to the reprise. Not a bad start. The next few songs build to a crescendo and feature sporadic percussion and hammering organ throughout with some delightfully odd lyrics.

Save Yourself is almost like an actual song but it is nowhere as good as when the band are jamming and improvising. The humourous time sig changes and weird guitar sounds are a key feature. Next is the short Priscilla, which is really an organ solo, leading to Lullabye Letter with its zany lyrics; "I've got something to tell you it's nice make you feel better, a lullabye letter". This one reminds me of the Pink Floyd Barrett style, and even is reminiscent of psychedelic Beatles, featuring a freak out organ break and accented percussion that is manic at times. The unsettling screeching at the end may disturb some listeners.

We Did It Again is one of the more well known Soft Machine songs, driven by repetitive title phrase and a hypnotic beat. The repeated phrase is essentially part of the music. I have heard this on many prog compilations but here it is heard in context as a part of the non stop music, all seamlessly blended together as one track. Plus Belle Qu'une Poubelle is a short organ driven thing that segues directly into

Why Are We Sleeping?, the longest track at 5:26 in length. The narrative is an interesting part of the psych strangeness, with incredibly bizarre hallucinogenic lyrics; "it begins with a blessing but ends with a curse, my mask is my master, the trumpeter weeps, his voice is so deep as he speaks from his sleep". This is followed by a short outro with a 25/4 time signature!

Overall this debut album is a part of the psychedelic flower power culture and an important part of the dawn of prog rock. It is definitely one of the better Soft Machine albums, and I was surprised how well it stands the test of time, with incredible tracks that stay with you with hypnotic repetitive melodies, and that I was able to rate this four stars as a result.

Report this review (#602131)
Posted Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Soft Machine is one of the most influential proto-prog groups together with The Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis. These groups were never called proto-prog because they do also fall into other categories. These groups did belong to the psychedelic rock or avant-jazz movement in the 60's and were a great boost for the progressive scene which was yet to emerge.

This record contains short tracks like the most psychedelic rock bands. The key-bass-drum set-up sounded a lot different then the later Emerson, Lake & Palmer and became known as the Canterbury sound. This may be the first Canterbury record, although The Mothers of Invention did used similar soundscapes. The songs are funny and optimistic like "Everyday I'd like an egg and some tea, but after all I do like to talk about me!". While The Soft Machine sounds not so professional as in their later releases this works out as a benefit in most occasions: it sounds very fresh and enthusiastic.

The record begins with a dual vocal piece with Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers on the vocals. This sounds a bit naieve, but I do really like it; it's so extremely catchy! On the first side there are some great drum sessions. It's some kind of drum solo with lots of psychedelic key tunes and bass riffs. This may be one of the biggest advantages compared with other psychedelic rock bands: the great drumming skills of Robert Wyatt! Also Mike Ratledge on the keys is showing incredible stuff.

I would rather call this record a psychedelic piece then a Canterbury piece, but this already has the Canterbury soundscapes and funny lyrics. This record is a psychedelic masterpiece and hardly advised for psychedelic rock and Canterbury fans. 4+ stars.

Report this review (#754753)
Posted Friday, May 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Messy start for one of the premier Cantebury bands.

Most of the debut of the Soft Machine dabbles in whimsical psych-pop with heavy jazz leanings. It would be nice if the music gelled cohesively, but it sounds as if the pop and the jazz are having a contest to see which will appeal to the listener most. The end results happen to be pop songs that have great melodies but poor finishes and more cerebral jazz motifs that sound inebriated.

This album almost seems bittersweet as Gong maestro Daevid Allen was out before the album's release and bassist Kevin Ayers was out of the band the next year. Ayers's bass sound is kind of unique, usually sounding muffled though, but ''Joy of a Toy'' has a serene bass melody that really sticks out and makes it a highlight track on the album. Wyatt's drumming and vocals sound strangely flat, something he'd fix soon enough.

Most of the poppier tracks are highlights. ''We Did It Again'' is one of those repetitive things that ends up being fun (and sounds like it should be in a soundtrack to a 60's beach movie), ''Save Yourself'', ''Lullabye Letter'' and ''Hope for Happiness'' are very strong in the melody department, and ''Why Are We Sleeping'' gives the album a good epic finish (other than the little experiment at the end). There are many transition tracks that aren't too bad, but end up being just filler. There are also some huge question marks like the plodding ''A Certain Kind'' and the messy avant-garde ''So Boot If All'' that wreck the album's consistency.

It's a piece of prog history, but several kinks still need to be worked out here.

(As a footnote, this review was written a few weeks before the passing of bassist Kevin Ayers. I would like to add in post that Ayers kept a sardonic yet whimsical sense of humour that ultimately provided some of the more memorable features on this album.)

Report this review (#931947)
Posted Sunday, March 17, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Soft Machine were the creators along with Caravan of the Canterbury scene. Let's not forget most of the members were together at the Wilde Flowers, previous to their bands. They liked the psychedelia of the time, but they also liked to feel free to compose, and also they liked to feel attached somehow to their folk roots, all this mixture was the origin of the Canterbury sound. Their first album was a first effort, and with great success, to accomplish the sound they were looking for. Little by little and band after band (remember that each member left to form other bands with same quality) they were improving in their music, that's why this album cannot get the 5 stars because they got over themselves in their future albums but definitely this album is the milestone of a complete genre.
Report this review (#1011594)
Posted Monday, August 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars All one has to do is listen to the demos (available as Jet-propelled Photographs) recorded the year before to hear how quickly THE SOFT MACHINE was evolving their sound. It had been a wild ride since the days of the Wilde Flowers for drummer Robert Wyatt and bassist Kevin Ayers to get to this point. Mike Ratledge joined the band in 1966 when they officially formed as keyboardist and fellow ex-Wilde Flower veteran Hugh Hopper (bass) joins in on a few tracks here. Hugh would later join the band as a full member.

Originally the band also included Larry Nowlin on guitar but by the time we get to this debut album there is no guitarist to be found and just as well. It allows the band to emphasize how much a band can do with just a bass, keyboards and drums. Although Daevid Allen (guitars and vocals) was out and would begin his own Canterbury powerhouse Gong, on this debut we get a mixture of his own beatnik philosophy that he left behind, the psychedelic rock that was in fashion at the time and a new found appreciation for jazz that is incorporated into the nooks and crannies of the song structures creating a very new and exciting kind of music.

I personally believe that the sudden evolution can be attributed to the musical genius of Jimi Hendrix with whom SOFT MACHINE would tour. Hendrix was a major catalyst in the musical world at large and such a close proximity to his world surely must have served as an energizing lightning bolt for the band catapulting them suddenly into the more progressive interpretations of their earlier psychedelic pop churned out just a short time prior their debut. The band tackles the songs quite creatively. I love how the leading track "Hope For Happiness" is really one long track but in the middle they insert another track titled "Joy Of A Toy." That strategy is repeated throughout the album making a smooth. flowing album from beginning to end. The melodies are catchy, the musicianship is excellent and the arrangements are quite brilliant. Ayers and Wyatt trade off vocals complementing each other quite well.

This one was certainly a grower. Upon first listen most of the complexities passed me by and I was more focused on the psychedelic pop aspects of the music. To fully appreciate SOFT MACHINE albums takes patience and dedication to fully unlock the brilliance embedded into the music. Although I liked this album on the first listen, I have grown to really love it for its bold and daring display of creativity as well as for its long lasting influence on not only the Canterbury side of jazz-fusion but for the evolution of progressive music in general. A belated 5 star masterpiece in my world but one that will firmly remain in that status. You'll know you're hooked when "Hope For Happiness" becomes the dominant ear worm beckoning you to put on the album time and time again!

Report this review (#1218672)
Posted Sunday, July 20, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The most important thing in enjoying vintage album is getting the full nuances when the album was produced. By no exception is this debut album by Soft Machine, released in 1968. Of course I was not aware by the time this album was released as my musical taste was limited to pop music, typically from Indonesia. But I am happy having been exposed to many kinds of music which at the end lands beautifully and voluntarily to PROG music. If I knew this album in the seventies, I might not be able to digest the music as it's different in typical music style dominated by pop.

In particular this debut album by Soft Machine, i was not aware that I had not reviewed anything about this album until certain point of time, maybe couple of months, my prog mate Cosmic Eargasm wanted me to write this album. My first reaction was: Yes! Will do! But then what happened I was swamped from one location to another until now I have a chance to write my view while enjoying this album. One of the reasons to write is because there is "A Certain Kind" which typically known by many people as a song by Bloodrock. Which is true, in the seventies this Bloodrock version was very famous in fact in my small city of Madiun, East Java, Indonesia.

Composition-wise this album is really excellent as it provides very definitive music that creates its own genre / subgenre even though most of us label it as Canterbury. I would say the music is a perfect blend of classic rock, psychedelic and jazz. You will find any many segments they combine each style beautifully. You might say the music is raw but you have to understand that this was released in 1968 - of course the audio technology was not that advanced compared to current situation. It's quite difficult where I can exclude my favorite tracks as I almost enjoy every single segment in any track the perform. The dominant instruments sound like drums that demonstrate very raw, performed by Robert Wyatt, hammond organ as well as bass guitar. In fact , I enjoy the album since its opening track Hope for Happiness (4:22) which has unique style, followed nicely to Joy of a Toy (2:56). Once you enjoy the music, you would not want to stop it. It's a joy enjoying this excellent music from the past. At the end of the album you will find dynamic music demonstrating solo by each member of the band's really col.

Overall, this is of course an excellent prog music collection. Keep on proggin' ...!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#1292849)
Posted Friday, October 17, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ground zero for Canterbury scene. This is arguably where it all started for Canterbury scene. Although still a psychedelic rock record, this incorporates proto-prog and jazz elements. It is the only Soft Machine album to feature Kevin Ayers, who is indeed an excellent bass player with a very distinct sound, capable of laying down outstanding grooves. Robert Wyatt's drumming is very unique, pushing the whole machine (Soft Machine) forward. Mike Ratledge's organ replaces any guitarist you would ever want. His break-neck, speedy salvos are what makes his playing style so unique. Overall, a really good album with some great songwriting. The highlights of the work are "Hope For Happiness", "Lullabye Letter" and "Why Am I So Short/So Boot If At All". A must-have for every progressive rock fan!
Report this review (#1530184)
Posted Thursday, February 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The album that launched a subgenre. Experimental pop rock jazz with a sense of humor both musically and lyrically. Experimentalism seems the band's modus operandi as almost every song seems to be trying something new or unusual. Not nearly so bold or boundary pushing as their next album, this one does push boundaries--and buttons. I find that the band has not yet established its propensity for melodic hooks--though the lyrical/linguisitc hooks are certainly full on display. Also, the individual members are still honing their instrumental skills--a fact that gets much more exposure with each successive album (Soft Machine and Matching Mole). My two favorite songs also happen to be the two shortest: the organ beauty, "Priscilla," and "Plus belle qu'une poubelle"--though the beatnik "Why Are We Sleeping?" is also great. The others remain musical oddities that test already-proven styles and sounds though usually contributing Robert Wyatt's unusual approach to both vocals and lyrics. If you want great music, memorable music, with the more fresh innovative spirit, go to their second album.
Report this review (#1533526)
Posted Saturday, February 27, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars The beginning of so much...

A truly original, iconic album. Far better than the first Caravan album, this one really set the stage for the Canterbury scene that was to come (well, they both came from the Wilde Flowers, but that band hadn't released any album). The Softs were true innovators. I picked this up at a teenager without having heard any of the music or knowing what it sounded like, just on the basis of hearing that they played with Floyd at the UFO club. Of course, it doesn't sound anything like Floyd, but I really loved it, and then began searching out other Soft Machine albums. Every new album (and I picked them up almost in perfect sequence) was so different from the previous one. Although you can easily date this to the late 60s, and the sound quality is less than stellar, the music is so full of life, energy, and soul. Wyatt's vocals, even when out of tune, are so emotive, and very unique. Ditto for Kevin Ayers ultra-low vocals, and Ratledge's distorted rapid organ solos filled up the sound. "Hope for Happiness", the opener, is a classic summer-of-love anthem (so much so that Frank Zappa includes a reference to it in his own brilliant album 'We're Only In It for the Money'). The song "A Certain Kind", originally a Wilde Flowers tune, is very soulful, and "Why am I so Short?" is an iconic political statement. "Why are we Sleeping" helped Kevin Ayers forge a music career after he left the band, and he has a number of versions of this recorded (often under different names) on his own solo albums. Each of the songs here seagues into the other via impromptu improvisations, since they recorded this very quickly and so basically just played their set list in the studio. It flows seamlessly. The result is an album that is highly authentic and original, brimming with counter-culture energy, and containing the seeds of a world of great music to come. A fantastic document up there with the other great albums of the era (like Sgt. Pepper's, Are You Experienced, etc). I give this 9.3 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to 5 PA stars.

Report this review (#1697009)
Posted Sunday, February 26, 2017 | Review Permalink

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